Welcoming the Stranger

I had the chance to attend a seminar put on by Arrive Ministries on Thursday morning at Hope Church called “Welcoming the Stranger”. It was a presentation by Matthew Soerens, the US Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, and provided an update on the current situation in regards to refugees and immigrants, and also gives a Biblical case for why we should welcome refugees.

The following recaps Matthew’s presentation and includes some of my own commentary as well.

If you have been paying attention to the news, you should be quite aware that we are facing a massive refugee crisis across the world. There are more refugees today than at any point in the history of the world, including the years of World War 2. This crisis has touched all corners of the world and has done much to shift political conversations, not only in the US, but perhaps even more so in Western Europe. It is a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, and it has strained the ability of countries around the world to address it in an appropriate manner.

Even a country as wealthy and resourced as the US is not immune. We are quite aware of the refugee crisis on our own southern border, as we have seen floods of individuals fleeing violence from Central America, and we, as a country, have responded in an evil manner, separating children from their parents and placing them in cages, where they have been victims of sexual assault and atrocities that we might not be able to comprehend.

As the crisis around the world gets worse and worse, the US has responded by becoming more and more stingy in our acceptance of refugees. The US is on pace to accept only 22,000 refugees this year, down from over 200,000 at the peak multiple years ago. But I mention this not merely to condemn the current Administration, as previous Administrations had been reducing refugees admitted, and the policy at the border was far from perfect (though probably better than what have seen the previous months). And the problems with immigration haven’t been addressed for years.

As we confront this issue, we need to be clear that there is not a left/Blue/Democrat answer and there is not a right/Red/Republican answer, but the Word of God does have the answer. And the church does agree (kind of). 93% of Evangelicals agree that we should help refugees, but only 8% of churches say they are helping refugees here in the US, while another 19% of churches say they are helping refugees overseas.

So what accounts for the difference between so many Evangelicals saying we should help vs. such a small amount of people actually doing something to help? The main issue is way too many Evangelicals see refugees as a threat or a burden. 57% of Evangelicals (including 70% of white Evangelicals), see refugees as a burden or a threat to the country. Refugees have been reduced to a political/economic issue rather than a Biblical issue. Only 12% of Evangelicals say that the Bible (!) is the main source of their understanding of refugees. There might not be another issue out there where only 12% of Evangelicals would claim the Bible as their main authority. And part of the reason for this is that only 21% of Evangelicals have heard refugees mentioned in their church. That might be a place to start.

But what does the Bible say about refugees (and immigrants)? I want to present 7 Biblical principles in regards to refugees and what our calling is as Evangelicals.

1. Jesus Himself was a refugee (see Matthew 2:13-18)

We need to consider why Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt. It was to escape the upcoming slaughter of Jewish boys at the command of Herod.

There are currently 25.4 million refugees in the world, based on the definition of having to flee a country of origin based on a well-founded fear based upon race, religion, politics, national origin or social group. Genesis 1:26-27 makes clear that we are made in the image of God with inherent dignity and potential. We should care for them. And there are benefits to refugees – they are not just mouths, but also hands, feet and brains. They will contribute to our society.

2. We are called to care for the widow, orphan and foreigner (see Deuteronomy 10:17-22, Psalm 146:9, Zechariah 7:9-10, Jeremiah 22:3, Malachi 3:5)

93 times God’s concern for the widow, orphan and foreigner is mentioned in the Bible. As we consider God’s care and how we can model it, we should consider the model that was laid out in the Bible. We have the idea of “gleaning” as laid out in the law and shown well in the story of Ruth. We are not to just give handouts, but we are to provide sanctuary and provide an opportunity for the widow, orphan and foreigner to make a life of dignity. We can provide a portion of our wealth as a nation if they are able be a partner in creating and harvesting that wealth and resource. This is especially important for those that are most vulnerable, as is the case with refugees and immigrants. Consider:

-72% of refugees are women and children

-Immigrants are 14% of the population of the US, but make up 95% of vicitims of labor trafficking and 14% of sex trafficking.

3. God has commanded Israel to remember that they were once foreigners (see Exodus 22:21, Deuteronomy)

God commands the nation of Israel to treat the foreigner well because they were once foreigners themselves, and they were to remember how they were treated. This is example for all people in the this country as we consider how we are to treat the foreigner among us. The vast, vast majority of us have ancestors who came here as immigrants as well, often under circumstances that were not the best.

4. We are to love our neighbors without condition (see Leviticus 19:18, 34 and Luke 10:25-37)

We are very aware of the story of the Good Samaritan, and how we are to treat well without fear those are different than us. Some things to consider regarding fear of the stranger:

-Refugees in the US go through a very thorough vetting process

-0 Americans have been killed by a refugee since 1980

-The odds of being killed by a refugee are estimated by Cato Institute to be 1 in 3.6 billion

-The overall incarnation rate of immigrants and refugees is about half of that of native born Americans

5. We are subject to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-5, 1 Peter 2:13-14)

About 70% of immigrants are here legally, with about 11 million immigrants no legal. Of the 11 million here illegally, about half entered the country illegally, usually on the Southern border, and the vast majority of them several years ago. The other half are those who overstayed visas, including student visas, which has been the vast majority of immigrants in the US illegally over the past decade.

Vice President Pence brought up this concept in a recent speech. For a deeper look at the Biblical implications, I strongly suggest this article from Pastor Joel Lawrence:


6. We are called to extend compassion to our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ (see Matthew 25:31-45)

Many of the refugees today are Christian, and for those who aren’t Christian, we are called to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19). The nations are coming to us.

7. We are called to provide Hospitality to all people (Romans 12:13)

Hospitality, in the Biblical sense, is to show love to strangers, not just those who show hospitality to us. When we do show love to strangers, we are reminded that we may be showing love to the angels (Hebrews 13:2).

I am pleased to be part of a team at Central that is showing love to Karen refugees from Myanmar right here in St. Paul. We have 10 people from Central who are committed to our team, and we look forward to continuing this ministry as best we can. I strongly believe as a Christian that our calling is clear, we are to show love and hospitality to refugees and we are to advocate our civilian government to do the same. I am pleased that Arrive Ministries has seen a significant upswing in volunteers ready and willing to work with refugees over the past two years, and I pray that our government will show compassion to those who are seeking refuge in our great nation.

If you have any questions about refugees, Arrive Ministries, or how you can be a part of the Central team, don’t hesitate to contact me.